Accident and Emergency waiting times at eight year high
The number of patients facing waiting times of more than four hours in England’s accident and emergency units has reached an eight-year peak, according to a study.
NHS performance data revealed that the proportion of people facing the lengthy wait for treatment has increased by more than a quarter, reaching its highest level since 2004.
The King’s Fund report showed that 4.2 per cent of A&E patients waited longer than four hours from January to March, compared with 3.4 per cent in the same period last year.
Its authors said the increase was a cause for concern and reflected growing pressures on the hospital sector.
On a national level the Government’s target that no more than 5 per cent of patients face more than a four-hour wait in A&E was met last year, the think-tank’s quarterly monitoring report found.
But 48 NHS providers breached the threshold in the final quarter of last year compared with 18 in the second quarter.
The King’s Fund said the rise coincides with emerging evidence of increases in “trolley waits” as some hospitals struggle to find beds for patients.
Data obtained from 60 NHS finance directors as part of the study also revealed that 40 per cent of trusts did not meet their productivity targets in 2011/12.
The report said: “This will be a significant concern as last year was the first in a four-year spending squeeze, during which the NHS needs to find £20 billion in productivity improvements.”
Just four of the finance chiefs questioned said their organisation was forecasting a deficit this year, backing up national figures that estimate a surplus of £1.5 billion across the NHS.
The study found the NHS was performing well against a number of other key indicators including hospital treatment waiting times and superbug infections.
The proportion of inpatients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment fell, while outpatient waits remained static, the report said. C difficile and MRSA infections dropped by 33 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.
John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, said: “Overall, the NHS continues to perform well, despite the spending squeeze. However, this masks growing pressures in hospitals and significant performance issues in some NHS organisations.
“Given the strength of the political commitment to keep waiting times low, the steep rise in A&E waits will be a concern for the Government.
“The productivity challenge will only get harder, so evidence that large numbers of NHS organisations failed to meet their productivity targets last year does not bode well.”
Marriage is still the ‘gold standard’ in relationships
A new survey shows – contrary, perhaps, to expectation – that young people regard marriage and the raising of a family to be more worthwhile than a high-flying career or the acquisition of material wealth. Indeed, the research, carried out by care home charity Friends of the Elderly, revealed that a lasting marriage was the leading aspiration among every age group, including 18-24 year-olds.
Earlier this month, when Coleridge established the Marriage Foundation, an independent charity dedicated to championing marriage as the “gold standard for relationships”, Left-wing commentators were highly critical. In return for raising his head above the politically correct parapet to reject the canard that when it comes to bringing up children, cohabitation is the equal of a legal union, bar the paperwork, he was branded reactionary.
But now it would appear that he was reflecting the mood of the nation. While no one disputes that cohabiting parents can be as loving and supportive as married couples, the incontrovertible fact is that their relationships are less stable – they are almost three times more likely to break up by the time their children are seven. And the long-term consequences of divorce and relationship breakdown on children are clear: they are more likely to play truant, take drugs, abuse alcohol, commit crime or self-harm.
Coleridge, who presided over the bitterly fought divorce of Sir Paul and Heather McCartney, blames 50 years of “relationship free-for-all” for the spread of “divorce on demand”. The resulting fallout – or “broken home”, to use the now unfashionable phrase – damages not just the children, but wider society. “The Marriage Foundation is not going to be a cosy club for the smug and self-satisfied of Middle England,” Sir Paul told an audience at London’s Middle Temple Hall, “but, we hope, the start of a national movement with the aim of changing attitudes from the very top to the bottom of society.”
Cohabitation rates reached 2.9 million in 2010; the same year there were 241,000 marriages (very nearly a hundred-year low) and a total of 119,589 divorces in England and Wales. One in three marriages now ends in divorce, and of those divorces, 20 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women will be divorcing for at least the second time.
As PR campaigns go, flying the flag for marriage is a challenge; at a time when we’re in thrall to celebrities, they haven’t provided the best role models. The absurd Disneyfication of the wedding day à la Katie Price, about to marry for the third time, creates the notion that marriage ought to be an extravagant, frothy fairy tale – no wonder couples struggle to adjust when real life kicks in.
“There is a creeping, insidious erosion of marriage taking place which is damaging our society,” says Richard Todd, a leading divorce barrister. “On the one front there are social changes which mean that marriage isn’t supported; and on the other, government policies have worked against marriage, such as the loss of a married person’s tax allowance and the removal of child benefit for the wealthy.
“When someone’s unhappy in their marriage they go for a drink with their best mate, who immediately says: ‘You don’t have to put up with that, you should leave.’ That’s usually bad advice. In previous generations, the couple would have received support to work on their relationship and the marriage would have survived the rocky patch.”
Divorce lawyers claim that no one walks out on a marriage lightly. But the modern world is an individualistic one, focused on self-fulfilment. Following their lavish nuptials in India, Russell Brand and Katie Perry have gone their separate ways after just 14 months. The model Heidi Klum and singer Seal, parents to three children and her daughter from a previous marriage, announced in January that they had “grown apart” and were separating.
“As a society we have grown to feel entitled to have our needs met, and to be happy,” says Charlotte Friedman, a psychotherapist and founder of the Divorce Support Group. “Thirty years ago, people stayed in unhappy, lonely marriages and repressed their emotions because they felt there was no other option. Would it really be better to return to those days?
“Of course, it’s better for children to be brought up in a loving home with two parents. But if they have to separate, and they can do so amicably and resist the temptation to recruit the children to one side or another, it isn’t a bad thing.”
According to the Office of National Statistics, the average length of a marriage in Britain is now 11.3 years. A cohabitation is likely to break up in three years if the partners don’t marry.
The number of couples getting divorced grew by 5 per cent last year to 119,589. This was an increase of almost 6,000 on 2009, and the first time the divorce rate had risen since 2003. Divorce charities say that the combination of rising unemployment and the increased cost of living have created a “pressure cooker” for many relationships. “It’s no surprise that the divorce rate is rising given the pressures that couples and families are under,” says John Loughton, of Relate. “In fact we are seeing more people than ever coming to us because of money worries.”
Money worries are a major deterrent to marriage in the first place, says Anastasia de Waal, of the think tank Civitas. She believes that the success of Sir Paul Coleridge’s crusade for marriage rests not on gradual social change, but government policies.
“The best way to encourage marriage is employment. We know there’s a clear correlation between low employment and low marriage rates,” she says. “If your partner doesn’t have a job or a house you are less likely to want to make them your lifetime partner.”
Whether it be through government policy or a social shift, we all have a vested interest in creating and sustaining happy families; not least because family breakdown costs us £42 billion a year in monetary terms, while taking an incalculable toll on the children involved.
If, as Sir Paul suggests, society is being unravelled, its warp and weft disintegrating with the ever looser bonds between couples, parents and children, can anyone really argue against the championing of loving, secure, stable marriage as the best environment in which to raise the next generation?
Conservative Minister urges Leveson Inquiry not to meddle with media laws as he makes passionate defence of Britain’s free press
Michael Gove yesterday warned Lord Justice Leveson that he risks creating a ‘cure’ for newspaper wrongdoing that is ‘worse than the disease’ of phone hacking. The Education Secretary repeatedly clashed over freedom of speech with the judge running the media standards inquiry.
He challenged the entire basis of the inquiry and insisted that existing law is sufficient to police the media and prevent wrongdoing.
Mr Gove argued passionately that anything else risks undermining free speech and warned that previous public inquiries that have imposed regulations on other industries have made things worse not better.
His outspoken defence of a free Press seemed to rile Lord Justice Leveson, who insisted new rules were needed to curb excesses even as he claimed he would uphold freedom of the press.
Mr Gove, a former leader writer for The Times which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, also refused to copy other senior politicians by distancing himself from the media tycoon. Instead he described the media mogul as ‘one of the most impressive and significant figures of the past 50 years’.
It emerged yesterday that he met Mr Murdoch and his senior aides on 11 occasions between the general election in May 2010 and July last year. But he denied that they discussed the News Corporation boss’s business interests.
Mr Gove said journalists were ‘exercising a precious liberty’ when they wrote articles. He said: ‘I am concerned about any prior restraint and on their exercising of freedom of speech.’ He said it was impossible to prevent newspapers causing offence to some portions of the population and that attempts to protect one group would ultimately undermine the ability of the media to hold the powerful to account.
But a clearly irritated Lord Justice Leveson said: ‘Mr Gove, I do not need to be told about the importance of freedom of speech, I really don’t.’ He said he was ‘concerned’ by Mr Gove’s view that behaviour which is ‘unacceptable’ has ‘to be accepted because of the right of freedom of speech’.
But Mr Gove was unbowed and said that attempts to stamp out wrongdoing could make things worse. He said previous inquiries had led to regulations that were ‘applied in a way to be a cure worse than the disease’.
Why don’t you want our children to have as good an education as you, Nick?
Nick Clegg is leader of the British Liberal party. He was educated at a prestigious private school and furthered his studies at Cambridge University. He is personable but is as shallow as a birdbath
In a horrible, ignorant speech last week, the Deputy Prime Minister revealed himself as a limited, conformist slave to conventional wisdom. He is also a wretched, skulking hypocrite, as I shall explain later. He ought to know better.
Thinking people of Left and Right have at last begun to see that comprehensive state schools have failed the country, and, above all, have failed the children of the poor.
Even veteran radical commentators such as Nick Cohen and Mary Ann Sieghart see the sense in selection by ability.
But Mr Clegg is demanding that our great universities should be ruined by the same egalitarian dogma that has wrecked secondary schooling.
Put simply, he wants the best colleges to lower their entry requirements. This will, of course, increase the number of state school pupils who get in. And it will reduce the numbers from private schools.
It is easy to sympathise with this, if you forget that it will also mean that university standards will fall, irrecoverably. It should not be possible to buy privilege in education. It is obvious that ability and merit alone should be our guide.
But that is exactly where we were heading in this country until the Left-liberal levellers got to work. Mr Clegg thinks that ‘little has changed’ in the past 50 years. Oh yes it has. It has got much worse, thanks to people like him.
In 1965, just before most grammar schools and Scottish academies were abolished, 57 per cent of places at Oxford University were taken by pupils from state grammar schools or direct grant schools (independent schools that gave large numbers of free places on merit, a fine system done away with in 1975 in another wave of vindictive Leftist spite).
What is more important, the number of state school entrants was rising rapidly, and had done ever since 1945, when the grammar schools were opened to all who could qualify.
No special concessions were made in those days. The grammar school boys and girls were there by absolute right. These brilliant people still hold high positions in every profession and activity.
But after 1965, the flow dried up, and instead of having a proper, qualified elite, we had to make do with privileged ninnies such as Mr Clegg instead.
Either they had gone to hugely expensive private schools, as he did, or they arrived at the top via the rich, well-connected socialist’s route to privilege, a semi-secret network of excellent state schools, some religious, some with tiny catchment areas where most people cannot afford to live, some with other elaborate arrangements to keep out the masses.
These schools – the Roman Catholic London Oratory that atheist Mr Clegg has visited as a prospective parent is an example – are officially comprehensive. But, in fact, they are comprehensive in the same way that 10 Downing Street is an inner-city terrace house.
What does Mr Clegg plan to do for his children? Does he plan to toss them into a bog-standard comp, where they will have to struggle to learn from demoralised supply teachers amid the shouting, the mobile phone calls and the fights?
Will he then feel his parental duty has been done if, despite the fact that they know very little, they are given privileged access to Oxbridge, but are unable to benefit from its rigour? I doubt it.
He won’t talk about it. He thinks it’s none of our business. Well, he is wrong. He has made it our business by supporting and defending a system that slams the gates of good schools in the faces of all those who are not rich.
The day British villagers blew wind turbines away: Victory for the little man as High Court rules in favour of preserving the landscape
Villagers scored a major victory over the wind farm and green lobby yesterday.
A High Court judge ruled their right to preserve their landscape was more important than the Government’s renewable energy targets.
Mrs Justice Lang said building four 350ft turbines would harm the character and appearance of a beauty spot on the edge of the Norfolk Broads.
The proposal from Sea & Land Power and Energy had already been rejected by both council and government inspectors.
In what will be seen as a landmark ruling, the judge agreed, saying lower carbon emissions did not take ‘primacy’ over the concerns of the people of Hemsby.
Maria Ellis, a landscape gardener who petitioned against the turbines, said: ‘This has been hanging over us for ages because the company kept proposing it over and over again which just smacked of arrogance.
‘Norfolk is renowned for its open skyline which has inspired stories and poetry and literature. The site is on a hill between two villages and we already have wind turbines to the north, west and east.
‘It is overdevelopment, you can’t cover the hills and dales in turbines.’
Tory MP Brandon Lewis, who lives in Hemsby, said: ‘This decision should really set a precedent for planning officers, inspectors and courts to give weight to the feelings of local people in protecting their environment. It really shows that local people who are organised and feel passionately can have an impact and make a difference.
‘In Great Yarmouth, we have several wind farms nearby, and renewable energy is a huge part of our economy. Wind energy is important but it has to be in the right place and should not have a negative impact on the community or the countryside we love.’
The proposed wind farm was fewer than 300 yards from the edge of the Broads national park and around 800 yards from homes in Hemsby.
Villagers said they feared over-development because there were already three wind farms within three miles.
Ministers have made onshore and offshore turbines a central plank of their plans to plug Britain’s looming energy gap. At least 340 farms are up and running with many more planned.
Suffolk-based Sea & Land had said their four turbines could supply 5,500 homes – or around 14 per cent of the energy needs of the Great Yarmouth borough council area.
But the local planning inspector kicked out the bid, saying: ‘The development would result in material harm to the character and appearance of the area because of its scale and location and the cumulative impacts of other similar developments.’
The inspector said the existing wind farms were ‘visually prominent in this simple, attractive, tranquil landscape with its scattered villages and farmsteads’.
Sea & Land took the case to the High Court in London, insisting that the East of England had failed to meet its energy targets for 2010 and was unlikely to meet the Whitehall target to generate 17 per cent of energy from low-carbon sources by 2020.
Yesterday Mrs Justice Lang backed the inspector, saying Sea & Land’s point about its 2009 proposal was ‘unarguable’.
‘I do not accept that the inspector ought to have disregarded the local landscape policies in the light of the national policies,’ she said.
‘As a matter of law it is not correct to assert that the national policy promoting the use of renewable resources … negates the local landscape policies or must be given primacy over them.
‘This is simply a case of policies pulling in different directions: harm to landscape and the benefits of renewable energy. The inspector was required to have regard to both sets of policies and to undertake a balancing exercise.’
Yesterday Roy Pinnock, an expert in planning law at the firm SNR Denton, said the case may bolster other villagers fighting wind farm projects.
‘It shows planning is all about balancing competing interests, and there will be a complex web of considerations in each case,’ he added.
‘There is a great emphasis on renewables, but this shows no one can claim that any particular outcome is preordained and it’s crucial that developers make an irresistible case for their development.’ Sea & Land can now take the case to the Court of Appeal.
Cally Smith, of the Broads Authority, said the turbines would have had a ‘significant and adverse impact on the protected landscape of the Broads’. She added: ‘This is not acceptable. There are other places which are better suited to accommodate development such as this.’
But Robert Norris of Renewable UK, the trade body for the wind industry, said the judge was wrong to suggest the case would have a wider impact.
‘It is absolutely vital for any developer to look at the impact on the landscape and wildlife before they can even think about going ahead with a project, but planners also have to consider the need to keep the lights on by generating electricity from sources that are clean and meet our carbon targets.’
‘First nuclear station for 30 years’: British government ‘on cusp’ of signing new deal
Ministers are ‘on the cusp’ of signing a deal for Britain’s first new nuclear power station for almost 30 years, the Government said last night.
Lord Marland, its energy spokesman in the Lords, said a final deal to build a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, would be sealed within months.
Plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations were rocked this month when German firms RWE and E.ON, which had each been expected to build a new plant in the UK, announced they were pulling out because of concerns the projects were not commercially viable.
The BBC reported last night that French firm EDF had delayed plans to announce the winner of the main £1billion contract to build the new Hinkley Point plant.
A spokesman said the company was ‘on track to deliver what is needed for the UK’.
Lord Marland said: ‘It has been 27 years since a new nuclear power station was commissioned and we are on the cusp of commissioning one in this country at Hinkley Point.’
It will then be up to Energy Secretary Ed Davey to apply for planning permission to install new reactors at the plant.
But Labour’s Lord Davies of Stamford criticised the Government for not acting quickly enough, telling peers that ‘not a single firm commitment’ had been made to build a new nuclear power station.
Last week it was revealed that the contract to run Britain’s next generation of nuclear power stations could be awarded to an arm of the Chinese government.
Genuine students don’t need to fear crackdown on overseas recruitment, says British immigration minister
The immigration minister yesterday insisted genuine foreign students have nothing to fear from a crackdown on overseas recruitment.
Damian Green spoke out after university leaders warned that the Government’s student immigration policy is damaging British universities. Universities rely heavily on tuition fees paid by overseas students, whose numbers have edged upwards over the past 15 years.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the heads of 68 universities attacked policies they claim will deter thousands of genuine foreign students and cost the economy billions.
Immigration minister, Damian Green, has said the Government’s policy towards foreign students is not damaging British universities. However Mr Green said: ‘There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them.
‘But we are determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down. Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors – numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.’
Meanwhile, umbrella group Universities UK admitted a fifth of foreign students remain in Britain once their studies have ended. Nicola Dandridge, UUK chief executive, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that studies suggested about 20 per cent stay on.
The row erupted over a target to reduce net migration – the difference between the numbers arriving in the UK and those leaving – to the ‘tens of thousands’ per year. It currently stands at a record high of 250,000. About 40 per cent of migrants arrive on student visas, mainly to study at universities but also schools and colleges.
University chancellors have warned the changes to immigration policy could put off foreign students from studying in Britain
Universities fear the immigration target can be met only if deep cuts are made to foreign student numbers. And they claim changes to the student visa system are deterring genuine foreign students.
Measures include barring students from remaining after graduating unless they earn at least £20,000 in a skilled job and preventing them from taking degrees or masters courses that last for more than five years.
There are also new rules governing when international students can bring dependants with them.
Universities say foreign students generate £8billion in tuition fees and other investment, with this expected to more than double by 2025.
‘Global competition for international students is intense and a number of other countries are increasing their efforts in this area,’ the letter says. ‘We therefore ask you to consider how your Government can do more to support our universities in their international activities.’
Signatories include former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell, chancellor of St Andrews University; broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, chancellor of the University of Leeds; former Tory minister Virginia Bottomley, chancellor of the University of Hull, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.
In response, the immigration minister said: ‘Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students.’
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch pressure group, said: ‘All three of our major competitors – the US, Canada and Australia – include students in their net migration figures, although they distinguish them for internal purposes.
‘Students who stay on, legally or otherwise, add significantly to our population which is why all those countries include them in their figures.’